The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?, pp. 8 of 16

The foregoing discussion up to this point appears to be arguing in part for an interventionist approach rather than for a non-Cartesian and “spontaneous order” paradigm as advocated at the beginning of the paper. Two points of argument can be made here: 1. although Hayek disapproves of interference in the free market, he did not oppose the ‘necessary’ intervention that can facilitate the better working of the market (for instance, tackling externalities). 2. Planet earth in the 21st century is already pervasively affected by human activities such that the forces governing ‘human systems’ may not reflect those governing ‘natural systems’. Hence, recovering the equilibrium of ‘natural systems’ may require in the short term shocks in the opposite direction that hopefully reverse damages that have been done to the systems.

The wisdom of the history of Venice, having survived for a thousand years and operated at the “history of the civilisation”, is not manifested ideally when appropriated to extract lessons for a very limited period (mere 50 years) of Singapore’s post-independent history. A more ideal approach is to compare the history of Singapore as it has existed for 700 years to the history of Venice. Here, we can refer to the work of Derek Heng who has tried to map the different phases of the history of the island. Heng divides up the history of Singapore into six phases: 1. Temasek period, 2. Singapore under Melaka and Johor Sultanate, 3. East India Company period (1819-58), 4. Singapore as centre of British Malaya, 5. Singapore as part of Malaysia, 6. independent Singapore. Heng’s (2010, p. 57) approach to history hopes to show:

a history [of Singapore that is] based on its repeated adjustments, sometimes self-conscious reinventions of itself… sometimes driven by rulers based in surrounding areas; but throughout Singapore had to achieve some kind of centrality […] by acting as headquarters, to providing localized subordinate port services…

The most influential periods when Singapore’s economic sphere was at is largest were during the Temasek period followed by the East India Company and independent Singapore periods; this was when the island was not excessively constrained by sizeable political powers in its vicinity. Incidentally, the Temasek period and the independent Singapore periods also coincided with prosperous periods in Asia (Frank, 1998). During these periods, Singapore not only acted as a gateway to a larger economic entity (or hinterland) but carved out its value as a major transshipment and service hub. In between these periods, Singapore was constrained under the Melaka / Johor Empire or under Malaysia (period of Union). Heng’s classification of the ‘low’ period of Singapore under Melaka is interesting because although the Melaka period represented a period of Asian prosperity (seen in the voyages of Zhenghe), a port-economy might not benefit from this if it was overshadowed by another polity. Venice’s history also yielded relatively high economic autonomy and advancement when it was under the overlordship of the Byzantine Empire (which did not constrain it excessively) from the 5th to 9th centuries and when the emerging European powers contested with the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean from the 10th to 15th centuries.[xi] From the 5th to the 15th centuries, Venice built itself from an insignificant village to a gateway city and eventually to a transshipment hub in its own right. Resonating Heng’s message for Singapore, Venice’s “decline” represents a period of readjustments that was dictated “by [powers] based in surrounding areas.” Why Venice did not re-emerge after the Napoleonic occupation was accrued to the fact that the Spanish / Austrian Habsburgs had been interfering on the Italian peninsula as the Ottomans gradually retreated after Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In the period of high nationalism in the second half of 19th century, Venice, unlike Singapore was never able to leave the Italian peninsula and so its development priorities subsumed under that of the Kingdom of Italy. As one stretches the timeline, it becomes more difficult to pin down particular factors for rise and fall. Going forward, Mahbubani (2015, p. 17, 31 & 39) relegates the shifting away of economic focus from a region as a “Black Swan event.” On a more optimistic note, he reassures that the present and upcoming century would be an Asian one (replacing the American century and reaching a certain peak in 2030 according to most strategic forecast reports; KPMG International, 2014).[xii] In essence, “luck” will be on Singapore side for some time to come (barring the cycles of fluctuations). In any case, Singapore is actively cultivating a vibrant economic region for itself, it should “become the biggest cheerleader of Asean.” It should be able to put up a fight as Venice had done should the situation turn averse. If there is any certainty, resource constraint always precedes any decline. As impulses of the Atlantic crossing were opening up new opportunities, the Mediterranean was experiencing depletion and shortages in resources. In the 21st century, “resource stress” is listed in many strategic forecasts as a “megatrend” (KPMG International, 2014).

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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