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The Straits Times says

Singapore's next exceptional chapter

After the nostalgia of last year's milestone Jubilee celebrations, the gaze today is on the next chapter of nation-building. This is a fitting National Day theme because of Singapore's current focus on transformation necessitated by ineluctable forces of change. The economy as a whole is being restructured to keep pace with technological and global shifts. Key areas are to be developed, some dramatically like Jurong East which is to become the second Central Business District. Even the highest office of the land, the presidency, could be recalibrated to ensure it can continue to provide equilibrium to the political system if that's tested in the future.

The didactics of such transformation being never clear-cut, negotiating the path towards SG100 must be a collective effort. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat signalled as much during his Budget 2016 presentation, in seeing the Government in partnership with all stakeholders to bring about economic transformation.

This does not imply a free-wheeling approach to change as leadership and planning will continue to be needed. However, plans on their own lack social motive power or moral impetus. These come from collective aspirations. And hopes on their own might miss the mark if not well grounded. An appreciation of where the city-state has come from and how it has arrived is vital - manifested, for example, by cleaving to a philosophy of governance and to time-tested social norms. Of course, being transfixed by legacy could mean walking backwards to the future, while change for change's sake is a leap forward that could prove treacherous. Instead, it is the fusion of both old and new hopes with sound planning that can help the nation to actualise an exceptional future.

Those who feel that exceptionalism exacts too high a price socially might reject the argument that a small state has to be extraordinary in order to be relevant to the world. One certainly need not fixate on being No. 1 in every area, but whichever nation that is chosen to serve as a benchmark, the Republic cannot lose sight of the need to gain a comparative advantage over others. How this is to be achieved over the next 50 years is a story that must be written jointly by all.

"The Singapore exception" can be undone, of course. As The Economist magazine sees it: "The biggest danger Singapore faces may be complacency - the belief that policies that have proved so successful for so long can help it negotiate a new world." That is not the main risk or the only one. Singaporeans must also recognise that people acting together make both extraordinarily good and extremely bad decisions which affect all. The difference might lie in just how diverse the group is, as suggested by studies on the so-called wisdom of crowds, and how their judgment is impaired or enhanced by social influence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore's next exceptional chapter'. Print Edition | Subscribe