For those of you old enough, you'll remember the commercial back at a time when ramen was still a novelty.
The ad reminds me of our economic development. We built up this island at a phenomenal pace. No wait, no fuss.
We needed to kick-start our industries, so we threw open our doors to MNCs while crushing trade unions and workers' rights.
Then we found our labour productivity lagging, so we opened up immigration and imported foreign talent.
Then we needed foreign funds, so we amended the Banking Act and built casinos to attract the world's billionaires.
Then we needed to build up our R&D, so we gave generous tax incentives to research companies to relocate to Singapore.
Then we wanted to promote higher education, so we recruited academics with impressive lists of publications.
Now we say we want innovation, and so we attract foreign entrepreneurs by removing financial requirements for them to set up shop in Singapore.
But like instant noodles which provide little nutrition, these quick-and-fast schemes do little for our economic health. In fact, they may have done longer-term damage to our competitiveness and stunted our development.
After decades where their rights have been emaciated, our workers are not a motivated bunch – in fact, they are the unhappiest lot in Asia. Unhappy workers, need it be said, are not productive workers.
Our success at buying R&D brains proved ephemeral. Pharmaceutical companies have moved out of Singapore after the generous incentives from our government lapsed. Eli Lilly (who stayed for nine years), Pfizer (ten years) and GlaxoSmithKline (eight years) have all shut down their R&D operations here.
As far as academe is concerned, the questionable strategy of recruiting widely published academics from overseas to inflate the international standing of our universities has been at the expense of home-bred research talent. Associate Professor Alan Chong from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies commented: “My impression is that many of the foreign faculty are here for the higher salaries and expatriate perks, relative to those in North America and Europe. They have no abiding interest in helping Singapore establish itself as a long-term hub for good social science.”
Our bring-in-the-billionaires scheme and casinos have made us a tax haven and enabled money laundering here. Together they have precariously perched us at the top of a murky and unstable global financial system.
The recent move to attract entrepreneurs from overseas, announced during the Budget 2017 debate, is the latest in a long-running effort to simply buy what we do not possess. Tan Min-Liang, a Singaporean CEO of a gaming company based in San Francisco, underscored this point when he said that the government should focus less on bringing in foreign talent and companies and more on investing in Singaporeans.
We don't inspire, motivate and invest in our people. We don't give them the time and space to develop. We don't build a foundation where citizens are confident achievers steeped in a knowledge-driven society and adept at change and innovation.
Instead, we call them quitters and upbraid them as daft and lazy. We liken them to dogs who must be brought to heel; a people who cannot be trusted with a free media or, for that matter, their own savings.
Even when we're fast running out of rope, the PAP continues its unseemly strategy of quick-and-easy development which has left us unable to think and prepare for the longer-term.
It is banking on the fact that it can step over Singaporeans and shop in the global marketplace to buy everything from academe to creativity and, in the process, leap-frog time to become the next big thing in the world of innovation.
Good luck to us all.