The Adam Smith Center in Singapore held its first Imagine Conference, celebrating the ideas of free markets in a country where free expression is often endangered. This year’s theme was the “Future of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Progress.” The conference explored “the big ideas that will shape our future” including the important positive impact of entrepreneurs on a society and an economy. Students for Liberty Singapore (SFLSG) also supported the conference “in its planning and execution process,” but SFLSG President, Wesley Goh, stresses that “most of the heavy work” was done by the Adam Smith Center.
Speakers and guests were invited from across Singapore and around the world to join a “robust discussion over issues such as ethics of organ trading, the impact of automation on work, the disruption posed by Blockchain technology, and even how to combat poverty in developing countries.”
“Most Singaporeans are apathetic and ignorant of public and economic policy,” said Wesley Goh, President of Students for Liberty — Singapore. “The Imagine Conference fills this market gap by informing the general public about Free Markets and Classical Liberalism which no other organization has ever done in Singapore.”
Although Singapore has a GDP per capita that rivals that of the United States, the tiny Asian island nation does not measure up in terms of liberties granted to the press and the free expression of ideas. The Freedom House ranks Singapore as “Partly Free,” with an overall score of 52/100.
It was certainly the first time a Singaporean audience was exposed to these pro-market ideas, despite being generally perceived to be a society that ranks highly on economic freedom rankings,” said ryan Cheang, director of the Adam Smith Center. “Contrary to popular opinion, Singapore best resembles a state-capitalist model of development, rather than a genuinely laissez-faire one. It bears remembering that Paul Krugman once compared Singapore’s development with that of the Soviet Union.”
In planning and running the Imagine Conference, the Adam Smith Center and SFLSG had to be careful that things did not become overly political and run afoul of Singapore’s restrictive laws on political expression.
“We do not have free speech here in Singapore,” explained Goh. “We risk libel lawsuits from the government if we are overly critical about their policies, or if we are not careful with the way we approach the subject.”
In Singapore, “Bloggers and online media that comment on political issues are targeted for prosecution with vague and overly broad legal provisions on public order, morality, security, and racial and religious harmony,” says Human Rights Watch. The result of this, Goh says, is a young generation “disengaged from political discussions due to the political climate.”
“For too long Singaporeans have been taught to believe that progress only happens because of government,” said Cheang. “Individuals and entrepreneurs are not and should not be passive followers of the state, however benevolent it may be. We look to friends of liberty all around the world to join us and support the work of the Adam Smith Center in Singapore.”
The Adam Smith Center and SFLSG hope that the conference will continue to be held annually to engage Singaporeans.