SASS AND THE CITY

Three wildly radical ways to fix Singapore

As we deliberate on the Future Economy, bemoan the fall of free trade, and gird our loins for the end of days, here are some helpful suggestions

THERE are many reasons to feel pessimistic about the year. Never mind the heavy wave of anti-trade sentiment, the tensions in global politics and the slowing growth.

The surest sign that the stars are crossed against us in 2017? Cambridge will drop the Angus Ross prize for literature that Singapore has won every year save one, since 1987. Our annual opportunity to boast about our book-smart prowess - obliterated.

As Singapore looks at its future, we toy with some radical ideas to tackle the country's existential angst.

The future is tl;dr

For starters, instead of the literature exam, junior college students should face another kind of national challenge: translate the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) report into several different languages. If Singapore is going to pull together and execute the ideas in the report, it will help to make it as easy to breeze through as possible, regardless of whether you speak in 140 characters or only in GIFs. Here is a translation template, tailored to varying levels of attention span.

For those who still have landline phone numbers:

Example 1: "We should create dense clusters of mutually-reinforcing economic activities by siting companies of varying sizes with synergistic activities together to encourage partnerships."

Translation: Companies from the same or related industry should be set up in clusters. Being in close contact can encourage a sharing of sector knowledge and ideas, as seen in Silicon Valley.

For those who are on Instagram, but have no energy to figure out Snapchat:

Example 2: "The Government should establish a dedicated programme office to support enterprises in making the most of data as an asset. The office can provide industry-specific regulatory guidance and co-develop flagship data science projects that will have positive demonstrative effects on other enterprises."

Translation: We'll fund some business ideas on data, and you can bet your bottom dollar that there'll be KPIs.

And for the readers who communicate solely through emoji:

Example 3: "There may be creative destruction as we create new industries; but there is also creative preservation as the new revitalises the old."

Translation: "Have you felt it, Lord Vader? There has been an awakening. I will finish what you started."

Can I get a discount?

Small businesses are not heading overseas as much as the government would like. In 2010, the government wanted to have 1,000 globally competitive companies making more than S$100 million in annual sales, by 2020. As at March of last year, we had 300 such companies.

Just as we force kids who cannot peel oranges to go to outward-bound school, SMEs can be trained for overseas expansion. To raise the SMEs' negotiation skills, the government must bring in the best in class, the elites, the top guns - they have to bring in the auntie brigade.

With a purse under her left armpit and coupons in her hair, The Auntie will teach SMEs how to suss out the bad fish - first at the marketplace, then at the bargaining table - cut the biggest margins and talk with such head-splitting bravado that companies will hand over deals faster than you can say "can I get a discount?".

If this proves successful, the alpha team, henceforth known as the Kickbutt Aunties Squeeze You (Kiasu), can then join the government at free-trade talks. No table is too expensive to bang. No tariff is too small to demolish.

To combat inflammatory remarks from major trading partners, the Kiasu may run Black Ops to turn the tide of anti-globalisation via online chatter, mixing budgeting tips and Korean drama gossip, with simple analogies on how trade means cheaper goods for all. They will tweet, and they will win.

No coconuts

The risk of a Twitter spat escalating into nuclear war is clear. It explains why doomsday preparations are a common conversation topic these days.

Can you row a sampan and make a fire? We want you!

Once reserved for men with tinfoil hats, the doomsday business has already resulted in more gold and silver deposits in Singapore from foreigners, many from the West who fear a collapse of political systems. A New Yorker article pointed to rich Silicon Valley investors investing in bunkers, and undergoing Lasik surgeries because in the apocalypse, you may lose your glasses in the fierce tussle over the merits of Atlas Shrugged.

Of course, the bespectacled workers in Singapore will be completely useless when the world comes to its crushing end. What is the point of balancing the books if you can't scale a tree for coconuts? It's the days of SkillsFuture past.

Let's not forget too that the recent hacking attacks mean that the Internet can shut down. No more GIFs, passive-aggressive "likes", and algo-rigged news. End times.

Singaporeans could re-tool by tapping a Dystopian Defence Fund. We'll have to learn how to farm, hunt, fish, and build a shelter (put that phone down, you can't buy one from Taobao). We'll also pick up self-defence from the Kiasu. All you need are knobby elbows and a healthy diaphragm for voice projection when the other tribe steals your masterfully grilled chicken kebab seasoned with hand-plucked organic oregano.

The other option is to shut down the Internet for a day. That, admittedly, might be too radical. It could awaken a truly frightening scenario: the attack of the zombie workers. #TraintoBishan