Is Singapore Resilient?

Singapore’s Resilient Strategy,” by Stephen DeAngelis, Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, 25 August 2006,

Singapore Is Not Resilient,” by W.F. Zimmerman, Nimble Books LLC, 25 August 2006,

In a recent blog post, Enterra CEO Stephen F. DeAngelis all but said that Singapore is resilient

In other words, Singapore isn’t lamenting that the world is changing and it might be losing jobs that might be going elsewhere; rather, it is actively trying to change its position in the future it sees emerging. That is what a resilient enterprise does. A few years ago, Francis Fukuyama wrote, “Just as the twentieth century was the century of physics … the twenty-first promises to be the century of biology.” [“Second Thoughts: The Last Man in the Bottle,” The National Interest, Summer 1999, p. 17] Apparently Singaporean officials see the future in much the same way. The article relates a number of proactive steps that Singapore has made to ensure its place in the emerging world.

No one can doubt that Singapore’s economic miracle has become permanent. Its resilient strategy is positioning Singapore for an emerging future rather than trying to get the country to cling only to those sectors that made it successful in the past, like electronics and finance. It jump started its strategy by importing world-class scientists, building world-class facilities, and ensuring that its standards are as high as any around the globe. It’s a great lesson in resiliency.

Yet Nimble Books Publisher W. Frederick Zimmerman (the same man who sent me Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus to review) notes a flaw in the logic

Unfortunately for Singapore, it is a classic example of a single point of failure. I respect Steve D. & Enterra, but in the proliferated 21st Century, resilient assets must be distributed assets. Singapore, by definition, isn’t.

Clearly, DeAngelis and Zimmerman are thinking of “resilience” in different ways, and both of them may be right. Just as Thomas Barnett “New Map” was operationalized (defined in terms of numbers and variables), Stephen DeAngelis should operationalize rationality.

Operationalization allows discussions to move forward in ways they otherwise couldn’t. For instance, in a recent thread on Barnett’s website, I was able to show why Tom’s model describes Mexico as “Core” and not “Gap.’ Yet, as far as I know, Steve hasn’t blogged a model that allows one to do the same things with countries that are “Resilient” or “Fragile.”

Enterra should at least create a framework for measuring resilience, like Thomas Barnett did in his book The Pentagon’s New Map. Then we can move this debate forward, and not forever trip over ourselves.

5 thoughts on “Is Singapore Resilient?”

  1. Just to expand a bit on what I meant: I would agree with Steve DeAngelis that Singapore has cleverly structured its economy & social system to be highly resilient, up to a point. I would be glad to stipulate that Singapore is better prepared to withstand any sort of economic or geophysical disaster better than almost any entity of equivalent size. But Singapore has no strategic depth and Singapore cannot be resilient to a rogue nuke.

    My argument is that a truly resilient Singapore would be a Singapore whose assets are truly portable in the event of a catastrophic attack on the single point of failure. The same applies for Israel. Militant Islamists are distributed; Israel is not.

    Many aspects of United States strategic thinking still follow the “put all your eggs in one basket and guard it heavily” line of thinking. My point is that when nukes become ubiquitious, resiliency means being distributed.

  2. Fred, I agree.

    On pages 161 to 165 of his book, Barnett gave five criteria for measuring connectivity. [1] So instead of having to determine if something with Core or Gap, and living with absurdities (Israel being in the “bad” side but North Korea being in the “good” side, for example), there were sub-categories for nastiness, shortness, brutality, etc.

    In the same way, DeAngelis should break up “Resilience” into meaningful sub-category. So there might be high Economic Resilience and Social Resilience, say, but little geographic resilience. (He may have already done this, but I have not seen it.)


  3. It will be easier to examine whether Singapore's resilient strategy is really suitable for long term economic growth. I have examined the issues involved on this blog post.

  4. BL,

    I enjoyed reading your post [1] a lot. I especially liked the discussion on skilled immigration to Singapore — many American engineers face similar hardships, so it is interesting to read a parallel case.

    I have two questions, both out of ignorance

    “Of course, there is a price to be paid for this kind of strategy. That price came at the expense of having the small and medium enterprises that can hold the economy in times of recession.”

    How did Singapore fair during the Asian troubles of the late 90s?

    “The weakness of the strategy is that in times of economic recession, Singaporeans cannot fend for themselves and subject to retraining and low wages.”

    It's somewhat of a circular questions, but are low wages or (artificially?) high prices a greater burden for Singaporeans?


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