Questions to ponder over to ensure S'pore stays ahead

I am perturbed by this contradiction: While modern medicine prolongs the average lifespan, we are "retired" earlier in our productive years with the use of robots.

What do we do with the long years ahead? What does this augur for Singapore's economic development and social security system?

It is expected that we will be made redundant way before we are due for retirement.

It is also expected that in a fast-changing world, we have to learn and retrain for the next "new" economy.

We also have to start second, third or multiple careers during our lifetime. We have seen the many times we have restructured our economy to stay competitive.

But in a globalised world such as now, the competition will be relentless as more developing countries emerge to join the First World league.

More and more, the competitive advantage enjoyed by a country is quickly usurped by the next wave of countries that have a hungrier and cheaper labour force.

Eventually, we have a scenario of an inverted pyramid, with more countries standing at the top as "high value-adding" producers.

The stream of highly trained university graduates locally and from abroad puts further pressure on the system.

Where would the openings for new graduates, who hold high hopes with their newly minted degrees, come from?

It is highly likely that they will all be engaging in research to develop "the ultimate robot" to replace themselves.

Meanwhile, we see more displaced workers pining away, years before their old age. Would they be a strain on our national coffers as we support a bigger social security system?

How much can we restructure, and in what fields, to stay ahead of the game?

Should we place our hands in as many pies as possible and hope that one or two will come up tops? Should we place our bets on a select few and dash for the finishing line?

These are existential questions for the country.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Questions to ponder over to ensure S'pore stays ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe