Was our phenomenal GDP growth worth selling our soul for?

When I listen to the painful experiences of ex-political detainees like Dr Lim Hock Siew, I question whether our phenomenal GDP growth over the past 40 years was worth selling our soul for (if indeed the two were interchangeable). Would I settle for a less developed country that did not have such a shameful past? It’s a hard question to answer, even though the morally correct answer should be obvious.

Watch Martyn See’s recording of a speech by Dr Lim Hock Siew, Singapore’s second-longest detained political prisoner, who was imprisoned without trial from 1963 to 1982. This is the kind of stuff that needs to go into our national education curriculum and screened in Singapore Discovery Centre. Our young people need to know the sacrifices these opposition politicians made for the sake of their beliefs and their convictions on how to forge a better Singapore for all of us.

Dr Lim talked about how he was kept in solitary confinement in a prison that was dark and damp, with bugs crawling all over. His total detention without trial stretched to 19 years and 8 months. All this for just being a political opponent of the PAP, a party that he was a founding member of.

It’s easy to glaze over the sufferings of these political detainees and get lulled into believing the rhetoric of the PAP which goes something like: “The key issue is are we better off now than we were 40 years ago?”

Better off economically, yes. Morally? I don’t think so. The ends do not justify the means. And in any case, does it automatically mean that we would not be where we are right now if the PAP had not locked up those hundreds of political opponents, whom they accused with a broad brush of being communists?

It could well be that we have a lively and competitive political system with the PAP and Barisan Sosialis competing with each other to present the best ideas to Singaporeans, and a dynamic, resilient and entrepreneur-led economy that is dominated by local enterprises instead of MNCs and GLCs.

Three generations of Singaporeans have been presented with a false choice of democracy vs economic progress. All the developed nations of the world today have proven that you can have both. Democracy in itself does not hinder economic progress, neither does economic progress depend solely on democracy.

Having said that, when I listen to the horrific experiences of ex-political detainees like Dr Lim, and Mr Tan Tee Seng whom I interviewed back in May, I question whether our phenomenal GDP growth over the past 40 years was worth selling our soul for — if indeed the two are interchangeable. Would I settle for a less developed country that did not have such a shameful past? It’s a hard question to answer, even though the morally correct response should be obvious.

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Mark 8:36-37 (NIV)

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

6 thoughts on “Was our phenomenal GDP growth worth selling our soul for?”

  1. Our obsession with GDP is harmful and misleading. GDP is just a measure of how much money was changing hand. If you pay a school bus service to send your kids to school, then you’ve added to GDP. And if you send your child to school yourself, you won’t add anything to the GDP. It is not a measurement of what actually get done or your quality of life. Even if we are all so consumed by it, it would be more meaningful if we track the median per capita GDP over there last two decades and the ratio of these figures with the median wages of singapore. These will be a better measurement of our productivity and the distribution of our wealth creation.

  2. Actually the pap govt. is a bunch of kiasu people. Whenever there is a spark of opposition trying to grow into a fire, they will use every means to put it out. If they are such smart asses what is there to be afraid of? Let a credible opposition grow and debate it in parliament like the House of Commons. Show the people you are real smart and not asses or a bunch of cowards.

  3. Talking about alternative realities yeah? Well sadly the one version that can be confirmed is the one where Dr Lim paid 20 of his best years for his beliefs and integrity.

    We are approaching the crossroads soon with the next election, giving Singaporeans the full power to change our future alternative reality, one that could possibly lead us to a better path of both true democracy without giving up an ounce of prosperity…if only the ardent PAP supporters will be able to see that.

    While human history has shown time and again that the unexpected can always happen when you least expect it, I’ll put my money on PAP winging it again with their well-timed sweeteners and ‘good news’ and scare tactics.

    I’ll be happy to lose that bet though!

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