Singapore and Pascal’s Gamble

Pascal’s Gamble is a philosophical argument made by French Blaise Pascal in the 17th century. It is about discussing the existence of god from a personal benefit point of view.

In certain aspects, the struggle of Singapore between economical growth and nature preservation is similar to Pascal’s Gamble.

Pascal speculates that given the choice between believing or not in god the outcomes are determined whether god exists or not. If one does not believe in god but god exists, that one might end up in hell and loose everything; if one believes in god and god exists, that one will end up in paradise and thus win everything; finally if god does not exist it does not matter whether one believe or not in god and thus looses nothing nor win anything. With this principle and assuming that the existence of god is not known, the best option for men is to believe in god.

My intent is not here to debate the existence of god or whether people should believe or not in god. Rather it is to consider Singapore dilemma between its economical growth and the protection of its rich natural and cultural heritage.

As economical pressure worldwide is affecting Singapore, as its inhabitant are growing unsatisfied, as its younger generations expect an increase of living standard similar to what their parents have known, as its population tends to increasingly antagonise its foreign workers, the Singaporean authorities pursue tremendous growth objectives in the hope of resolving these issues. The wager here is that an increased population will trigger the needed growth, thus it is required to occupy larger area for housing projects and plan for greater capacity in its transport infrastructure, being for cars or for public transportation. But could it be that growing the population might not lead to economical growth, could it be that despite Singaporean efforts might not suffice to compensate for economical slowdown in the region or even worldwide? Could we one day realise that we lost an invaluable and irrecoverable natural and cultural capital and not even get what was hoped for?

Singapore choice is not whether growing or not growing, in any case it is about growing. Growth can be supported, can be planned to some extent, but there are too many variable to be sure that whatever is done, there will really be positive growth at the end of the road. It might then be necessary to try again, maybe differently or harder, to get the needed growth. There are enough different economical schools to tell you that economics is not really a science, there is no magical formula but a good set of recipes which are known to work sometimes but also to fail at other times.

It might be a good thing now to consider whether Singapore rich natural and cultural capital should bear the cost of uncertainty. Whether it wouldn’t be appropriate to pause for just the time needed to consider the impact of our actions on nature.

Nowadays we talk a lot about the new Cross Island Line which would cross the central catchment, this is a good debate but this might make us forget about other natural haven such as Bidadari or Bukit Brown, the later being at the same time a fantastic cultural heritage. It is good that such debates can take place, Singapore has a greater chance in its conservation efforts than many countries where forests are simply set ablaze to be later used for human agriculture without any hope that the local authorities get involved, often being corrupted to look elsewhere. In that respect it is great that local authorities are getting prepared to debate and consider all opinions and every inhabitant, nationals and foreigners, should support the process once it is started.

Finally it is just another form of Pascal’s Gamble: should we gamble our natural heritage for possible but not certain economical benefits? What legacy will we then transmit to future generations?

Singapore and Pascal's GambleChristian C. Berclaz

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