Singapore Economic History


During my days doing my Masters, I had always wanted to start working on studying Singapore’s Economic history, primarily because we should be learning from the way we developed and not blindly attributing it to some brilliance on the part of individuals or organisation. To break down the black box and understand the practice of growth is something I endeavour as an Economist while the reluctance to attribute our development to specific individuals but rather to consider it down to naturalistic observations about policy, culture, and zeitgeist is my responsibility as an informed voter.

For one, the idea of Singapore as a location suited for trade really started way earlier than we initially had thought; and it has gone by various names: Sabana (2nd Century), Pulau Ujong (3rd Century), Simha-pura (transliterated somehow to ‘Singapura’ – 11th-13th Century and used later on as well), Tamasek (around 1330s), Temasek (circa 1689) and finally Singapore. It gained some importance as a port in 14th Century with trading by merchants as far as China, gaining some immigrants along the way; subsequently as a regional port under the Sultanate of Johor in 16-17th Century. In 1613 however, some Portuguese supposedly destroyed a settlement around the main river, killing most commercial activities on the island until Sir Stamford Raffles landed in 1819, reviving the port status of the territory.

It was indeed, no special original brilliance of Sir Stamford Raffles that helped Singapore become positioned as a entre-port; rather, his effort was the recognition of the need for British navy protection, garnering the resources required to build up this port and rallying support to keep this port a tax-free one that would help enjoy endless flow of ships and traders. The status of a free port was definitely innovation within the British Empire at that time. This particular innovation we inherited much later and became an important economic policy.