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Can Singapore’s economy shift to a lower gear?

Faced with slowing economic growth and a quickly aging population, Singapore has aimed to pivot towards developing an innovation ecosystem and boosting productivity.

But part of that drive has included changing the measuring sticks for success.

Harish Manwani, a member of the Committee on the Future Economy created by Singapore's government to develop strategies to position the country for future economic trends, said that success just wasn't about growth, it was about inclusive growth.

The aim wasn't just to accelerate gross domestic product (GDP) growth, but to create an economic strategy to make sure the growth was sustainable and benefited all, he said at the DBS Asia Insights conference on Thursday.

That was consistent with a change in how the government measured its performance.

Gautam Banerjee, vice chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, noted that the government no longer looked at GDP exclusively and was also considering measurements such as the Gini coefficient, which benchmarks inequality in a country.

Singapore's economy grew by 0.8 percent in the April-June period from the previous three months on an annualized and seasonally adjusted basis.

While the Singapore government was pursuing multiple strategies to boost productivity as its working age population shrank and immigration slowed, it wasn't clear that productivity was the sole goal.

"Productivity is not everything," Ilian Mihov, the dean at business school INSEAD said, noting that social welfare was also a concern.

As an example, he noted that within Singapore, generally the lines at McDonalds were sometimes short or nonexistent, meaning worker productivity was low. But if some workers were fired, productivity would improve, but lines would be long and social welfare would take a hit, he said.

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