Singapore is Asia’s wealthiest nation. Can it stay that way?

Singapore skyline showing the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.
Singapore skyline showing the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay. (Photo: Getty Images)

By David Rovella

(Bloomberg) — It’s been independent for just under 60 years and is smaller than New York City. But make no mistake, Singapore is very much in the big leagues when it comes to money. The ascendant financial hub at the crossroads of global trade has in a relatively short period of time (as far as history is concerned) transformed itself from a colonial trading port to the wealthiest nation in Asia – and one of the richest in the world.

In the Bloomberg Originals mini-documentary How Singapore Got Rich, and Can It Last, we explain how this tiny island outpost moved deliberately from manufacturing powerhouse to financial services giant and now tourism and tech. In the process, it’s managed to boost its per capita GDP far above the UK, France and even the US. But as a new prime minister takes power for the first time in 20 years, clouds are forming on the horizon. The question now is how does Singapore maintain its winning streak.

Singapore has long been the prime example of how small countries can seek a pathway to rapid growth and development, particularly if they have limited natural resources. Part of its success as a financial centre has been its light regulatory touch and comparatively low corporate tax rates. More recently, the Singapore government has sought to further fuel its growth by attracting wealthy residents – and their assets – with casinos, luxury hotels and the attendant nightlife that make the city-state a destination.

But harder than getting to the top is staying there. Singapore’s restrictions on civil liberties now apply to a nation that’s become more diverse and less willing to accept the status quo. The cost of living is rising, Singaporeans are aging and income inequality is more of an issue. In How Singapore Got Rich, and Can It Last, Bloomberg Originals shows how, to maintain the country’s standing as a pinnacle of wealth, incoming Prime Minster Lawrence Wong has his work cut out for him.

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